Assorted Urban Links: new book on China, car sharing is not what you think, and declining French prices

  • I am in the middle of reading Matt Kahn’s and Siqi Zheng’s superb new book “Blue Skies over Beijing“, in which the authors present some optimistic data on the decline in concentration of particulate matters in major Chinese metropolises. We know that European air didn’t use to be ‘as clean’ as it is today: a quick look at London’s great smog is enough to realize that many countries polluted their way to growth — and that many metropolises across the western world still have high levels of air pollution. India’s facing a similar conundrum, though at a likely earlier stage of the growth/pollution –> clean up path than China.
  • The FT reports that car sharing has a limited impact on car purchases. As for computers and the internet (which led to more paper printing and not less), car sharing appears to be a complement rather than a substitute for car ownership. What about self-driving cars? The FT concludes by saying: “In the long run, car sharing, self-driving vehicles and other new technologies will disrupt the industry that Henry Ford built. But it may be too soon yet to know exactly how great will be the dislocation.” It is a fairly good bet that self-driving cars may both lead to an increase car use and an increase in pollution and congestion. That’s called the Peltzman effect applied to congestion and it’s been pretty good at predicting unintended consequences of apparently ‘good’ technologies.
  • House prices in France are lower today than they were 5 years ago, in 2011 (Link in French). Given the low housing supply elasticity in many French cities and the cheap credit, that’s a pretty good sign of an ageing society with weak demographics and stagnating median income.